Deene and Dining: Die All, Die Merrily, Chapter Six

Here, an entire chapter from Die All, Die Merrily (London, 1961), is both an example of the importance of English cuisine in Carolus Deene mysteries and evidence of how the inadequacies of contemporary public catering are analogous to other deficiencies in public and private life:

Die All, Die Merrily


On reaching Maresfield Carolus disembarrassed himself of Priggley.
“Go to a cinema or find someone in a pub who will listen to your sparkling chatter,” he said.  “I want to see Mrs. Hoysden alone.”
“Like that, is it?  All right.  What time shall I meet you?”
“Half-past ten outside that curious town-hall.  If I’m a little late, hang on.  I’m going to take Mrs. Hoysden out to dinner.”
“God!  Where?”
“There’s a restaurant a few miles away which is supposed to be good.”
“What kind of good?  Roast beef of old England or phony French?”
“I don’t know.  But at least it will enable me to get her out of that flat of Drumbone’s.”
He telephoned and asked for Mrs. Hoysden, then explained quite frankly that he did not want to come to the flat just yet, and suggested that she should dine with him, not in the town but at a restaurant some miles away.  She seemed quite calm and agreed at once.  Her readiness for a tête-à-tête might mean that she had nothing to conceal or it might mean, Carolus thought, that she wanted to give the impression that she had nothing.  He agreed to call for her at seven o’clock.
“Get the porter to ’phone up when you arrive,” she said.  “It will save you coming to the flat at all.”
She came out to the car looking splendid.  She wore black but no one would have supposed it was mourning.  Yes, noted Carolus, the eyes were green—it had not been the effect of light yesterday.  She seemed curiously serene for a woman involved in a tragedy.
“I don’t know what you’re going to ask me,” she said as Carolus drove away, “but I’ll try to be as frank as a woman can when she discusses her husband.”
“Thank you.  I’ll leave it to you to tell me what you want.  Naturally, anything about Richard Hoysden is helpful, especially coming from someone who is not by birth a member of his family.”
They found the Escargot de Bourgogne a Victorian villa standing back from the road with a restaurant beside it, built chiefly of metal-framed glass.  A great many rose-shaded lights were visible in this and the proprietor lay in wait for them in the doorway, a large bald Londoner with a manner of speech found only in old numbers of Punch as the language of English-speaking Frenchmen.
“Would Madame wish to have a table near ze centre?” he enquired.  “Or perhaps she would prefair au coin?”
“This will do,” said Pippa.
A vast menu was produced.
“Oh, I just want something . . .”
“We ’ave only ze table d’hôtel, madam.  Then, coming to business, “Two pounds.  You ’ave Cantaloup Glacé à la Duc de Rochefoucauld . . .”
“Did he like melon?” asked Carolus.
“Zat is the name, sair.  Or Saumon Fumé Monseigneur.”
Tinned or frozen, thought Carolus.
“Or Crême de Tomates Marquis de Polignac.”
“Heinz, thought Carolus, but perhaps the best bet.
“Then,” continued the proprietor triumphantly, “we ’ave Morue Grillée Saint-Germain, or Vol-au-Vent de Volaille à la Bénédictine, or Omelette aux Champignons . . .”
It went on inexorably to the inevitable Glacé Vanille, a totally uninteresting menu with pretentious trappings.  The wine list was worse.
At last however, they were alone.
“The awful thing about Richard, said Pippa, “was that he would have liked this.  In certain ways he was as credulous as his aunt.  À la Duc de Rochefoucauld would have got him.  He had taste only in music.  He was in some things a very conventional man, which makes this all the more incredible.
“I met him less than two years ago in London.  We got on at once and saw a good deal of each other before he told me he was Lady Drumbone’s nephew.  I thought that was a pretty dreadful thing to be and said so, a remark that didn’t go at all well.  None of the family have much sense of humour, you know.  It wasn’t a fool but he was fond of Drumbone.  ‘Whatever may be said about my aunt,’ he told me rather stiffly in reproach for what I had said, ‘she is absolutely sincere.  No one can doubt that, even if she is a little misguided sometimes.’  ‘Misguided?’ I said, ‘she’s led up the garden.  She can’t really believe all the stories she trots out.’  But he wouldn’t have it.  There was a lot of truth in what he she said, he would have me know.  He was quite upset and we didn’t see each other for a week after that.
“I ought to have seen the red light.  I ought never to have met him again.  But I was fond of him then and couldn’t believe the old girl dominated him like that.  Then I agreed to come down to Maresfield and meet her.”
Pippa was interrupted by the waiter, but Carolus did not speak.  He was listening intently.
“What is nothing short of terrifying about the Drumbone,” continued Pippa, “is that she does believe the stories.  Richard was quite right; the woman is sincere.  Of course, once she has that reputation she can be led on by any charlatan or any malcontent.  She really goes to places and listens to people telling her how they have seen torture camps and what not.  She has no discrimination at all.  But she is also very fond of her family.  She is a sort of baulked matriarch.  Alan, Richard, Keith and Olivia—you haven’t met Olivia yet—and, I suppose Alan’s wife Anita and me and her secretary Wilma Day.  She wants to run all our lives for us.  It’s genuine enough and not altogether selfish.
“But I still did not realize it when I agreed to marry Richard.  I knew I should be one of the family, as it were, but I did not know how much.
“In Richard’s case it was strange because he wasn’t brought up by the Drumbone as Keith was.  Richard was thirty-two when I married him a year ago and his mother had been dead only four years.  Yet he was the most under the old girl’s thumb of any of them.  No, that’s not right.  They weren’t under her thumb exactly but they—made her the centre of things, if you know what I mean.  Richard particularly.”
“I can guess, I think.”
“He was so good-natured.  He’d do anything for anyone.  If old Drumbone wanted to be treated like a Grand Duchess she had to have it.  He would no more refuse her that than the loan of his car.  But I must say it began to bore me.  I didn’t want to be a member of any family.  I’d had enough of that with my own.  So I began to  . . rebel.  I can’t find the words I want this evening.  This vol-au-vent’s hell, isn’t it?”
“Hell,” agreed Carolus.  “Never mind the exact words.  I understand your meaning perfectly.”
“I mean I began to behave badly.  Do things on my own.  Shew them all that I was not one of them.  I loved Richard but I hated his . . . conformity.  Running round to see poor Olivia.  She’d been ‘poor Olivia’ ever since her husband was killed and she traded on it.  The perpetual widow.  Richard visited her as though he was visiting the sick, and she’s a strapping girl who ought to have married again.  Keith I didn’t mind so much, though he was always coming to Richard for advice, or with schemes for something he wanted to write or paint or compose.  But he at least had manners, not like that dreary son of Alan’s.  He’s eighteen, spotty and self-opinionated.  When the grammar school opened here Alan took him away from Lancing and sent him to the local school to ‘help start it’.  That was Drumbone’s idea, I think.  Wait till you see the cocky young brute.  He slopes about in his school cap with a pair of shaded glasses which looks absurd to start with.  Richard talked music with him and gave him gramophone records.  I wanted to clock him.
“Then with Alan himself feels far too generous.  Alan’s all right, but he has never quite grown-up.  And I can’t stand Anita, who is a common little bitch kind you imitate her husband’s aunt.  Richard wanted me to be friends with her.  Can you wonder that I got out of line?”
“Like most people,” smiled Carolus, “I’ve had my experience of families.”
“They’re misery.  Always.  I can’t eat this chicken, I’m afraid.  I think it’s a pterodactyl.”
“I’m not making much progress with this Queue de Bœuf Florentine.”
“Taste nasty?”
“No.  It doesn’t taste at all.  Been in the tin too long.  Let’s have some coffee and brandy.”
“Anyhow brandy.”
“Please go on with what you were saying about families.”
“It’s a pity, really, because Richard and I might have made a success of marriage if we’d been left to ourselves.  But we never were.  However, I’m not going to make excuses.  Ten days ago I went off with a man called Sandy Rothsay.”
“That was a long silence.  Pippa drank most of her brandy.
“I don’t know how much you want to hear about that,” she said.
“I don’t know how much is relevant.”
She gave him a rather sad smile.
“Nor do I, quite.  Perhaps I’ll just say it was a failure.  You’d better meet him for yourself if you want to know why.  He blamed Lady Drumbone, rather unfairly, I think.  ‘While that old bitch is there,’ Sandy said, ‘she’ll never let you escape her damned family.’  He was very bitter about it.”
“Did Richard know you were with him?”
“Yes.  I wrote and told him.  But I didn’t tell him why I’ve left him.  It was not so clear to me then.”
“You don’t know how Richard took it?”
“Yes.  Alan has told me.  It’s most unflattering.  He was quite calm about it.  Almost his only cooment to Alan was ‘Oh, she’ll come back’.  What could be more maddening?  Because, of course, I did come back.  At least, I meant to.”
“Before you come to that, to Saturday evening, I mean, will you tell me a little about Richard.  Was he never violent?  In any way?”
“Never.  The most easy-going person with everyone.  That’s what annoyed me, I think.  I simply could not make him angry.  He was so forgiving, you know—not in a self-righteous way, but by nature.  That’s what makes that damned tape-recording so impossible to believe.  You’re probably tired of hearing everyone say Richard couldn’t have done it.”
“Yet there it is.”
“The only possible solution is some sort of schizophrenia.  I never saw any sign of it, though.  Could it suddenly take possession of someone?”
“I don’t know.  I’m not psychiatrist.”
“Madness, anyway.  The voice was Richard’s all right, but it was not Richard speaking.  Not Richard as I or anyone else knew him.”
“We’ll come to the recording presently.  I only wanted to know if a violent, what hysterical, or vengeful side to his character had ever shewn itself, even for a moment.”
Carolus ordered two more brandies.
“When did you decide to return?” he asked.
“You’ll think me idiotic, but I suppose it was as soon as I had gone away.  Even before, perhaps.  I mean, some part of me knew all along that it was crazy and didn’t mean anything and I would come back.  But in a practical sense, not till Saturday morning.”
“When did you arrive in Maresfield?”
“About nine p.m., I imagine.”
“Did you drive down?”
“Yes.  I suppose this will sound rather preposterous, too.  I asked Sandy to drive me down.  Or rather, to let me drive his car down with him in it.  I loved driving that Mercedes of his.  Perhaps that’s why I went away with him.”
“Are you a good driver?”
“Mm.  Mechanic, too.  I’m tough, didn’t you know?”
“And he did?”
“Yes.  Why not, when you think of it?  He’d taken me away.”
“It’s a little hard to visualize.  What about your luggage, for instance?”
“We took that to the Norfolk, where he often stays, and left it there.  I hadn’t got much.  I suppose that’s evidence that sub-consciously anyway I meant to return.  Sandy was going straight back to London, he said.  I ’phoned Alan.”
“You didn’t go to his home?”
“Heavens, no.  With Anita there and Charles?  Charles is the overgrown schoolboy son.  No, I asked Alan to come round to the Norfolk.  I wanted him to see Richard before I did.  I’m a bit of a coward, perhaps, but I really couldn’t arrive on the doorstep and take the risk of being politely turned away.  (Oh, yes, Richard would have been polite about it.)  Alan understood but said he couldn’t go that night.  They had some friends to dinner and he had escaped for half an hour but had to go back.  He promised me faithfully to go first thing in the morning.”
“Did you give him your latch-key?”
Watching her carefully Carolus saw her hesitate, then speak sharply, almost defiantly.
“Yes.  What about it?”
“It seems an odd thing to do.  After all Richard would have let him in.”
“You didn’t know Richard.  I doubt if a fire alarm would have got him out of bed on a Sunday morning.  Alan was going early so I insisted on his taking the key to be sure of getting in.  I don’t see anything odd about it.”
“Did you stay at the Norfolk?”
“Good gracious no.  I went round to Lady Drumbone’s.  That would have been the end, if she heard I had stayed in a hotel in the town.  I told her I wanted to go back to Richard.  She was very sensible about it and thought I had done wisely to send Alan first.  Because he was one of the family, I suppose.”
“What time did you reach her flat?”
“After Alan left me at the Norfolk I had a couple of drinks.  They close at half-past ten and I asked them to ’phone for a taxi.  I must have reached Lady Drumbone’s just after eleven.”
“Did you find her alone?”
“Yes.  Keith came in soon afterwards and seemed flabbergasted to find me there.  But he was very sweet and tried to be helpful—offered to drive me round to Richard’s and what not.  I was in a bit of the state, you know.  I stayed up talking to him afterDrumbone had gone to bed until quite late.  I think he was longing to get to bed.”
Carolus smiled but said nothing.
“At last I turned in.  It must have been about one o’clock.  Rather unexpectedly slept like a top.  Then, in the morning, Alan arrived in the news.  You can see I’ve had a hell of a time, can’t you?  Alan told it as gently as he could, but when I heard that damned tape-recording it pretty well broke me.  I still can’t understand it.”
“If you feel up to it let’s consider that tape-recording for a moment.  Lady Drumbone’s theory is that Richard had the illusion he had killed someone.”
“Richard wasn’t the sort of man to have illusions.”
“All right, but this wasn’t the Richard you knew, it was the Richard who made that confession.  Now if it was an illusion, do you think he could have supposed it was you he had killed.  ‘I loved her, yes, but I hated her, too.’  Could that apply to you?”
Pippa considered deeply.
“I honestly don’t think so.  I’m sure he never hated me.  Perhaps he didn’t love me much, either.  We got on fairly well when I behaved myself, but these violent emotions don’t seem to fit.”
“I see.  Can you think of anyone he might have been thinking of?”
“No.  It’s Richard’s own character that makes the words seem nonsense.  He was a most temperate man.”
“But—you won’t mind my asking this?—was there anyone else who aroused even his temperate emotions?”
“No one I knew of.  Unless he met someone in those last ten days.  It doesn’t seem likely.”
“Then you don’t think he was just imagining it?  You think he really did go out of this mind and killed someone?”
“I don’t know.  How can you guess what someone whom you’ve always known as sane would do when he is insane?”
“You can’t.  I shouldn’t have asked you that.  What about that sudden ‘Hell!’ at the end?  it seems rather out of keeping, doesn’t it?”
“It’s strange you should say that.  To me it’s the only thing in keeping.  The one word that sounds like Richard.  He never really swore, not even ‘damn’.  ‘Hell!’ was about as far as he went, but he used it often.  A characteristic little exclamation of his.  If I hadn’t known from the voice all through that it was Richard, I should have known from that.”
“Thank you very much, Mrs Hoysden.  You’ve been very explicit and patient.  I must apologize for this repulsive meal, too.”
Pippa smiled, but not very cheerfully.
“I suppose I seem callous,” she said.  I’m not really.”
She rose.  Carolus, who had paid a monstrous bill, followed her out to the car.
“I hope you clear up this beastly thing,” she said.
“I will,” promised Carolus.  “You may have helped me more than you realize.